Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Lion in the Road

In all the time I knew him, I saw my grandfather in two primary costumes: his pajamas/bathrobe and a business suit. He wore his pajamas every morning while making us bacon and eggs, his leather slippers softshoeing on the oft-sand scattered linoleum. The kitchen faced east; sun broke through a huge magnolia in the side yard. This was in Hampton, Virginia, located where the James RIver empties into the Chesapeake. Every day en route to my cousins' house on Chseapeake Avenue we'd pass the historical marker describing the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac, which took place right there in front of my cousins' house. After making breakfast my grandfather, who we called Big Daddy--emphasis on the "Big" and not the more pimp-like "Daddy"-- would take a shower and put on his suit, always wearing a hat and overcoat, say goodbye to everyone and walk to a door in the upstairs apartment my mom and her brother mostly grew up in, open the door and walk down a flight of steps to his office, which was on the first floor. He owned and ran a funeral home, all of which lay below the apartment. Cousin Bryan taught me how to play Super Freak on the chapel organ. I'd seen more dead bodies by the time I was 7 then most Americans who have no tbeen to war see in a lifetime. Adults tried to hide it from us but kids are curious. One body still haunts me, a fat woman, completely naked, in the white-tiled lab, the embalmer looking up from the gray body.

I don't mean to start off my first address to the interweb in months so morbidly. I don't have death on my mind any more than you should, which is to say, constantly. Anyhow, I was spooled back through time in a very pleasant way as a result of this interview with David Berman. My grandfather, who died in 1985, my freshman year at college, was an extraordinary man who I think about every day, literally. I couldn't go to the funeral because of ice storms acros the South. I've never felt guilt, if you wondered.

I met Berman for the first time sometime in the early to late mid90s, in Charlottesville, when he and Will were first getting together to plan out the Silver Palace record...actually, I think they were prepared to record, as I have a very dim recollection of guitars and mics, maybe even a DAT, a mixing board, a stool on an oriental rug. Tea bags. Maybe they did make some songs. Chris and I had driven out rte 20 to Berman's rented place, Will and Paul were there, and a friend or two. Will and DIanne were responsible for supper; it was a baked rice dish that I've eaten with the Oldhams before, maybe a family recipe, grandmother perhaps, where you bake the raw rice in liquid and vegetables. There was a big bottle of jug wine, some beers. It was summertime so the woods around crowded you even when you weren't near to them; insects creeched from the swollen greenery. We watched the Heidi Fleiss documentary. Berman was arguing with Paul, challenging him to defend Can, who Berman loathed. Paul was using the Henry Jamesian mechanism of "I like Can; that is enough", but Berman was having none of it. Hectoring--where does that word come from? Wasn't the Iliad's Hector the only honorable guy in the whole war?--anyway, hectoring comes to mind. We were all younger then, but Paul most so, and Berman is a tall cat with a good loud voice that comes out of his mouth with a directness and an absolute lack of confusion that I've always admired...Paul, having grown up with Ned and Will, had long ago learned to defend himself but at the same time you could tell that having someone yelling at him about Can, forcing him into the position of explaining why he liked Can was jarring, used perhaps to more intensely quiet lines of questioning--Defend them, Paul! Berman yelled. Why on earth would you like such a shitty, pointless band? Explain it, please. I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why this band is so great, and you're not doing a very good job of it, either.

Since then Berman's always occupied a part of my mind that I don't always want him occupying. We are friends in a distant but tangible way in such a way as you might be friends with twenty people; there's that sense that you know someone well enough, but not too well. He did not answer any of my emails for a year after I made passing reference to the Ravens' beating of the Titans in the AFC championship a few yrs ago, nevermind that I entirely agreed with his negative assessment of the Billick-led Ravens, and I even think that in the Pitchfork interview he subconsciously utilized the word I used to describe the Ravens so many years ago, which was "unlikable". He pestered me to send him a copy of my languishing Mali book so I, at great expense, made a copy of the thing and took it to him in Nashville when I did a few tiny things on the Best of Palace record last winter. When I asked him a few weeks later if he'd read it he yelled at me in an email, accusing me of being an asshole for "dropping such a huge book in his lap". I suppose this was at the height--or the depths--of the lifestyle abuse referred to in the Pitchfork interview.

Even so, there's a very short list of people whose modes of navigating life seem unique and admirable to me, and whose work seems to reflect some distilled essence of their lives rather than an ironic put-on or "art exercise", and Berman is one of those people. Perhaps the line between "ironic put-on" and "distilled essence" is remarkably thin, so thin as to be invisible. Who's to say one can't create the illusion of "distilled essence" as I suppose Ryan Adams, Sons of Leon, the Magnolia Electric guy, and Jay Farrar attempt to do?

Many might accuse Bonny Prince Billy of art-school artifice, of too rigorous an application of intellectual concepts of identity to his music-making, but anyone with an even remotely objective take on what Will's been doing for the past 15 years knows that the opposite is true. There's a corny stereotype about the great artist being physically unable to do anything but exactly what they're doing--the assumption that the great artist is unable to make the compromises that you and I make hourly in obeisance to the life of the consumer gods --but in the case of both Will and Berman I believe this to be true. Then there's that notion that people occupy their place in contemporary mythology not due to any effort on their part but because unknowable conditions and forces have eddied them to where they are, sort of dropped them off in some tidal pool not of their choosing. Maybe this is it more than ambition or desire. Who knows. Oldham and Berman. I could see both of them being lawyers but certainly not antique store owners, or label magnates. It's not even an issue of purity, a moral concept I think both Jew and Catholic alike would take issue with, but instead limitations and an ability to focus energies (at least in Will's case). I'm not saying this any better or more honorable than what you and I do, for as we all know the line between stupidity and solipsism and selfishness and childishness is all one, and choosing instead to settle in to Cohen's House of Mystery, like Sam Gamgee at the end of Return of the King, as anyone who's done it knows, is the wildest, weirdest, hardest adventure there is, infinitely more difficult than being by yourself and like a little lost boy leaving everything behind every few years...

In the early 90s a friend worked at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. One morning before opening--it was early, just past dawn--my friend, broom in hand, was interrupted by a banging on the door. A man stood there, hooded in a grey sweatshrt and matching grey sweatpants. A skinny woman with long red hair that sprung out from her head in a sticky halo not unlike cotton candy stood impatiently behind the man sucking intently on a cigarette. He wore white Chuck Taylor hightops which my friend noted appeared brand new, glowing there in the dawn; also, interestingly, the man, for even though the creature was slight of frame is was clearly a man, the way it bounced on its toes as it stood on the other side of the plate glass, had a white towel draped around his neck, on the outside of his sweatshirt. The woman finished one cigarette and lit another.

The museum had had a problem with homeless loiterers using the bathroom. My friend yelled at the guy, threatened to call the cops, told him then politely, embarrassed, maybe considering that the guy might in fact be a visitor, that they opened at 9. THe figure nodded and began to shadow box. The woman shook her hair; her mascara began to drip; she stubbed out her cigarette.

After a half hour or so the guy banged on the door again. My friend approached the door with nothing like anger but wanting instead to settle the man's impatience, to prove to the man and woman that they'd have to wait until opening. But then he knew he would open the door, because the man was Bob Dylan and he, my friend, already had tickets to the night's show at the Mosque. Dylan asked for the lyrics to Dixie; my friend gave him the lyrics from a faded folder and gave him a tour of the museum.

That night Dylan opened the show with Dixie but he did not sing the lyrics.

A number of years ago we played some shows in California with a band called the Supreme Dicks . They'd gone to Hampshire College at the height of the 80s hippy revival and said they'd come up with the most obnoxious name possible mostly in order to tweak dorky earnest hippie sensibilities of their liberal Yankee counterparts. One of the Supreme Dicks looked familiar to all of us. (Another guy in the band was perhaps apocryphally the source of Buck in Chuck and Buck ). We grew to like the Dicks quite a lot. Sweeney played drums for them. I've already mentioned that in LA Sweeney knew somebody who invited us over for a swim. So we drive up into the Hills to a producer's house. A starlet was there, pretty but with bad skin, and Adam Goldberg , who sat poolside reading a gigantic tome made out of pressed leather whose pages were yellowed and crumbling. So intent was he to figure out the book he did not look at us as we all striped down to our bathing suits. This is where I saw Sweeney try to jump off the diving board; Liz Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance was there--she was the road manager for the tour--and this is also where Ned splashed Goldberg with the cannonball (in retelling this story, now referred to twice in this account of things now and past, to someone who knows Goldberg, I have learned that what I understood to be arrogance was instead nerves; AG was a big fan of Will's...the tailor re-tailored).

There's no reason to pretend that the upcoming exposure of the familiar Dick--Sam Dylan, son of Bob and Sara, brother to Jakob and Jessie, the guy who directed Kicking and Screaming and How High-- might hold any import whatsoever, but as Berman claims in his interview, it's often more important to be a witness rather than the witnessed; these little nodes of information are recorded in public places and the public translates them as they will...on the same tour we ate Indian food with Phil Ochs' daughter and watched Cher's son play a video game that involved maneuvering a skateboarder through a cityscape.

PS: I'd totally forgotten about that nut-job who followed the Dicks up the whole West Coast dancing and gyrating. Apparently he's the Kapelovitz who started the page. Any clarification on the issue would be appreciated.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Sniff My Freedom

I am truly enjoying this book right now, by Max Rodenbeck.

My good friend Gordon over here decides to do something and by golly he sticks with it, through thick and thin, including putting up pictures and words every day for those of you who make it a habit to wander from one of these blogs to the next, while at work or play. Me, not so good: Some people not have way, I guess.

But below, in lieu of freshities, and again in honor of Gordo's stick-to-itness, another excerpt from the long lost Mali book (I will honor the dailies soon with fresh words):

I happen one day across a group of musicians I know gathered casually around a checkerboard and so I sit and play with them while they pass the ngoni from one person to the next. Chris and Tabb are walking through the marché together and I am excited to be able to yala---to wander---by myself. A young unsmiling man in bubu who will not tell me his name, calling himself only Le Vieux (The Old), takes the ngoni from my friend Amadou’s hands. The other players whisper behind their hands, “Donso.”

Within Banimotie and Wasulu society the donsos are given a great deal of respect for their very devotion to the donso lifestyle, to the sacrifices they make, and for their dedication to that part of the donso’s code that disallows them from entering mainstream Malian society. Hardcore donsos don’t run cigarette stands, they don’t sell bread, they don’t fix bikes. In short, they don’t kiss anyone’s ass. Being a donso is not a hobby but a complete lifestyle choice, and clearly Le Vieux is having second thoughts about playing for the curious tubab. He doesn’t sing and seems caught between wanting to impress me with his skill on the ngoni and breaking the donso’s code of performing during the day without his uniform. At first he plucks sheepishly at the ngoni, not even opening his mouth, avoiding my gaze. I play the nkerenye with him, using a blunt homemade knife in lieu of a nail, and soon he is playing dizzying runs on top of a low E drone that sounds like a harmonium. Upon finishing he hands the ngoni to someone else and walks away without a word.

Not too long ago I was invited to a donso ceremony in Kolondieba, where the barefooted donsos, all wearing brown mudcloth uniforms with the odd, baggy jodphurs, hats, and matching frocks, fetishes dangling from their lapels, gathered behind a central leader holding an ngoni, who began to play. They commenced to shuffle forth, snaking through the crowd in a neat half-step dance, some playing nkerenyes, ngonis, some holding their muskets aloft, huge and ancient with primitive handmade stocks and long scarred barrels. The leader sang the first few lines of the song. His fellow donsos added a repeated vocal chorus, sometimes consisting of a line from the song, sometimes a nasal whine consistent it seems with a gospel chorus’s amen, naamooaaah or namooo. A sort of secondary donso’s acknowledgement of the primary singer’s vocal and intellectual power, the phrase, I am told by a regional Peace Corps volunteer, might also be a slang version of I hear you. An emcee with an ancient microphone and a long cord walked next to the hunters, holding the mic up to the lead ngoni player. A distorted howling came from the single horn speaker placed above the crowd.

Throughout the ceremony, the hunters reached into pouches hanging around their waists to retrieve goathorn-fulls of homemade gunpowder, which they dumped by the ounce into the barrels of their guns. They’d squeeze off a shot, another, as great billowing revolutionary booms whose echo had the percussive depth of a cannon rolled like great iron drums across the expanse. Kids scattered with cries and regrouped holding hands to ears, now transfixed upon the hunters. Rings of smoke drifted upwards and directly I smelled the pleasantly acrid scent of gunpowder. Incidentally, when hunting en brousse, each load is handpacked with powder, wadding, balls and ignited by what in many cases appears to be a flintlock. I am sure I have seen flintlock rifles out here en brousse, and I could see many of the old donsos in Kolondieba thumb-cocking their pieces before they held them up in the air. Surely some of the men have come across more contemporary firearms but others, without question, are using rifles that are all but homemade. Bullets are expensive: they only fired blanks during the show, just powder and wadding. Off to the side an old man followed them with a large tray of black powder. Presently he put it on the ground nearby so they could easily scoop into the powder and refill their pouches without much interruption of their progress through the crowd.

I am reminded of a story an American who worked for a small company that supplied funds for building rural schoolhouses told about a donso he met while building a new schoolhouse. Naturally, the villagers said to him, it is tradition in most villages to invite local hunters to any important ceremonies to sing and to play their ngonis and nkerenyes and to have a feast. The American agreed to pay for the donsos, a few chickens and bowls of rice.

So, as he said, one afternoon out among a low collection of mud huts in another village outside of Bougouni, the hunters gathered, already drunk, in a cluster of rare shade and without any acknowledgement to one another the ngoni began and a strong voice rose from the crowd. They began to parade in a tight circle in the courtyard of the village. Between them lay the communal pan of gunpowder, from which they periodically filled their muskets. Some were too elderly to do more than shuffle along, heads down, while others danced foot to foot. Some punctuated the singing with enormous blasts from their rifles.

A., the American, continued the story. He said that the donsos were very drunk and firing one salvo after the next. Huge fireballs of flaming wadding rained down on the group like spent fireworks as the hunters kept firing. He noted with concern that the calabash full of gunpowder seemed vulnerable to attack. Balls of fire were raining down upon all and it seemed only a matter of time…And of course a ball of expelled wadding eventually ignited the calabash of gunpowder. A crackling explosion followed. One of the hunters dancing close to the flaming pan reached for it, hoping to extinguish the fire in order to save precious gunpowder, and was burned horribly, third degree up both arms.

Our acquaintance watched, horrified. The man’s life was clearly threatened; he was clammy and going into shock. A., half-panicked, motioned to his nearby motorcycle but the hunter refused the two hour ride to Bamako, refused the thirty minute drive to the aid station at Bougouni, refused any sort of help from the American whatsoever. He was whisked off on the back of a bicycle by a brother donso, holding his streaming redblack arms into the air.

Later the American visited the hunter in a darkened hut. The man’s burns were severe, his arms caked and oozing pus. He moaned terribly and had a high fever, attended to by hunters with medicaments and powders. They brushed the flies away from his wounds with a goat’s tail. The American, smelling in the close air of the hut the reek of rot and death, asked again to help. Again the hunter refused assistance.

A month later the American returned to the village expecting to find the old donso dead. Instead, the American was greeted by the hunter, his arms scarred but fully healed.
“Needless to say,” said the American, “we don’t let the drunken donsos come to any more school opening ceremonies.
“And,” he added, “some villages have refused to allow us build schools there for that very reason.”

One afternoon Chris, Tabb and I pile into a Land Rover with literally twelve other Malians and leave Bougouni for a village called Bougoula. It’s about an hour and a half from Bougouni, and easily an hour of it is spent on one of the innumerable dirt roads crisscrossing the brousse. In the way back of the truck Malians are piled atop one another like luggage. At one point Tabb begins to look peaked; we unload him from the truck just as he vomits onto the ground. He is starting to get sick regularly, but we remind ourselves that he isn’t even two, and don’t all toddlers get sick? I clench my teeth as he retches again into the ditch, and as the haphazardly piled Malians in the back watch us through the window. Chris wipes his mouth with her shirt. We pile back into the truck.

We get to Bougoula when the sun is straight above us. It is unimaginably hot. Crowds of children gather around Tabb. What was once a cute ritual has become an invasion: initially Tabb loved the attention but now he is frightened when the crowds of children push in on us, and buries his head in my shoulder. Little brown hands reach in only to touch in what can only be described as a very unchildlike tenderness, a conscious attempt, it seems, to be delicate and to not paw. After the children rush him he looks over his shoulder and sees that the crush has dissipated. He climbs down from his perch and ends up playing unknowable games with other toddlers and young children, running through the shaded side of the courtyard of the village. Someone points to the kids.

“Ça c’est bon,” he says, winking at us. “Baashi-te. It is fine now. It is safe there.”
“Safe?” Chris asks. “What are you talking about?”
“Serpents,” he says. “The snakes are only deep in the forest, not on the edge.”

Presently a jester-donso bounds out from the forest. Two dancers wearing antelope-masks, the chiwara, follow closely behind. We hear the sound of drums and presently a three-man jembe and doundoun troupe lopes out of the shade. Chris, Tabb and I are seated in homemade chairs on the front row in a band of shade as just a foot from us the yellow earth seethes with heat. A woman griot follows the dancers and sings the praises of the VIPs in attendance, Bagayoko, Berthe, a few men from the cotton factory (this is after all a ceremony honoring the agricultural gods). We are the only non-Malians there. The great griots of Mali’s history, including Mali-founder and folk-hero Sunjata’s own Balla Fasseke, are men, though today the most popular singers in Mali are women, many of whom sing with pop-style accompaniment the long, oriental melody lines of what I hear in Bougoula; Oumou Sangare, Rokia Traore, Nahawa Doumbia, Djeniba Seck, all of whom have roots down here near Wasulu. In fact, Nahawa Doumbia lives not far from us in Bougouni.

The jester-donso begins to whip 2 antelope-masked dancers into a frenzy, helped by the syncopated explosions of the sweating drummers. One of the dancers spots us among the crowd—-a tubab man, woman and child—-and leaps towards us, curious, his head held cocked like a young goat. He clutches short poles on which he balances his muscular torso in an eerie and dead-on accurate portrayal of a bounding animal. He is channeling the chi wara—-chi means “men”, “between”, as well as “farming”, while wara means wild animal—-the mythical antelope-beast born of a woman and a snake who, some say, descended from the heavens to teach agriculture to the Bamana peoples. It is not yet hot season but already the villagers are preparing for it and for the rainy season following by beseeching the gods to be sure to send rain…Through the thin slits in his mask I can see his eyes wide and glittering, twitching manically to the beat of the drums. Behind him the drummers play a slow, loping beat, somehow ominous and off-kilter, like a wounded animal limping into the shade. The dancer peers at us more closely, his head turning eerily on his neck, as he becomes this curious spirit-animal. Dust clouds rise and billow across the yard. Tabb sinks into Chris and begins to wail.

The jester, thus emboldened by the cries of his prey, screams and leaps and following this sudden signal the jembes begin a furious salvo and catch the dancer’s feet. The chiwara dancer’s head remains completely still, his eyes locked on mine, as his feet thrum the ground below. Tabb is fully wailing now. Around the dancer’s ankles are braces of hundreds of bottlecaps, which hiss and shake like a prehistoric armored animal shimmying in the dust. The loud drums echo across the barren space while a hot merciless wind pushes rivulets of sweat into my eyes. The band of sun has crossed into our previously shaded spot. I can almost feel my bodily chemistry being re-worked by the heat, by the excitement of the performance, and I can almost hear the reversion of my molecules to some baser state. Sometimes I feel like I have to grip my chair all the more tightly or else I’ll find myself leaping up and dancing with the animal-man.

This is no show for the tourists; there are no tourists in Bougouni. This is no empty ritual, but instead is a mystical reconditioning of the people of this village to bear out the hot season once again with strength and patience, and a beseechment of the gods to bless the crops once the hot season ends. The Sahara is creeping ever closer. Little over a decade has passed since the last deadly drought resulted in the death of the majority of livestock in the entire country of Mali. Granaries stand empty in barren fields. Cows’ hips jut evermore sharply from their scarred hides. Children’s bellies protrude, phallic malformed bellybutton flesh dangling lewdly from drum-tight abdomens.

This is what we in the West have lost, completely.

Girls with buckets of water continue to follow the goat dancers, splashing it into the dust with their fingers. Still sizable clouds of dust rise angrily from the dancer’s feet. I have my shirt over part of my face but am staring at the mask hanging in front of my eyes; the jembe players behind appear to be rising from clouds of smoke. And before me the dancer remains planted, his powerful legs hammering the earth like pistons, his head yet unmoving.
Intimidation, standoff, the ancient peering into the future.

Late in the afternoon we eat tige dege na, a peanut-based stew, from the huge communal bowls with the villagers. As we eat with other village elders and Malian VIPs young village children stare at us from a few feet away. They will only eat after we have finished. It is difficult to break apart a large chicken breast with only one hand but every time my left hand drifts towards the bowl I can feel ten eyes instantly upon it. In any case Tabb reaches in to the bowl with both hands and shovels handfulls of rice into his shining lips, nodding with pleasure as the children point to him and laugh.

We arrive home as night is falling and collapse into our beds. The harmattan howls outside; next door the donkey knocks and snuffles against its stall. When the wind and the donkey calm there is little but a great, lonely silence.

I speak to Chris, telling her about my perceptions of the day, about the thrilling dancers, the jembe drums, the seriousness with which the villagers’ seemed to take both the chiwara ritual as well as our presence at it. It is more clear to me now how difficult it would be for someone like Moussa, or any other Malian student or teenager with a passing notion of the Wu Tang Clan or New York or Bill Clinton, who is interested in joining the modern world outside of Bougouni, to separate themselves from this powerful human magic in order to make better sense of the plastic modern world. There is something purely frightening and collectively nightmarish about this essence of man-as-animal, this shade of that dancing ur-beast lurking at the root of everyone’s heart, that forces one to recognize how easily our ancient past could obliterate our plastic future if we might, Kurtz-like, succumb to it. The ritual we witnessed today makes our contemporary world seem ridiculous. One feels one’s self being dragged backwards into the earth’s harsh breast; the modern world and all its glossy, repressed greed makes less sense.

I wonder about the donso-jester. He was wearing the donso’s uniform but didn’t play an ngoni, and seemed more an enabler, a guide, and less a real donso. Perhaps a bogolan costume festooned with gris-gris does not a donso make. The drummers were incredible, I say to Chris, eyeing the mosquitoes already gathering on the net, their hind-legs hiked up like elbows, working against one another like oil pumps. And did you see the beautiful jeli? Those infinitely black eyes, that knowing, pre-fall smile, but still so innocent somehow…a country girl who knows nothing of the world outside of this village but knows more, perhaps, of man…I wonder what’s going on with the band back in Baltimore. I’m in a sort of droning trance.

Then Chris twitches, snores; she is sound asleep.

But I cannot join her, not yet: I am unable to erase the frightening image of the dancer’s manic eyes from my imagination.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Feeling a Little Wiggly

So said Maxwell yesterday upon awaking.

I'll post some wiggly photos of the recent tour avec Billy and the Wolf-Nutz when I can find them. The pictures, that is. For what it's worth, the photos I took with the Lomo fisheye turned out well. Shoot real close.

Wiggly-wise, Max was feeling physically wiggly--he moved his body not unlike a fish while standing in hid bed, which is where he was when he said this--while I am feeling brainly wiggly, on account of it being 50 degrees and raining here in Baltimore. But also because there's just too goddam much to do. Sleep is a waste of time, isn't it? I could easily work 20 hours a day. And spend 17 hours of that work doing nothing but staring out the window. That's work. Sometimes. I roto-tilled the whole side yard; was that work? It was so easy. Thinking about how to continue forth through the writing project on the table, having that span of time in which to empty my brain, that's work, that's hard if not impossible. Calling up the ghosts, that's hard. Also, there's this:

* * *

Andrew Lytle said the following in his essay THE HIND TIT :

"When we remember the high expectations held universally by the founders of the American Union for a more perfect order of society, and then consider the state of life in this country today, it is bound to appear to reasonable people that somehow the experiment has proved abortive, and that in some way the great commonwealth has gone wrong.

There are those among us who defend and rejoice in this miscarriage, saying we are more prosperous. They tell us---and we are ready to believe---that collectively we are possessed of enormous wealth and that this in itself is compensation for whatever has been lost. But when we, as individuals, set out to find and enjoy this wealth, it becomes elusive and its goods escape us. We then reflect, no matter how great it may be collectively, if individually we do not profit by it, we have lost by the exchange. This becomes more apparent with the realization that, as its benefits elude us, the labors and pains of its acquisitions multiply.

To be caught unwittingly in this unhappy condition is calamitous; but to make obeisance before it, after learning how barren is its rule, is to be eunuched."

But Lytle also talked a lot about "living in the world", saving a great deal of bile for those who choose to remove themselves from the ebb and flow of society. This is work, thinking about this stuff: There are no alternatives, are there? There is little choice but to dive in, no?

* * *

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Rare Quick One

Here's a short thing I pumped out for the sinful Vice Magazine.

I'd reserved this morning for work but the fourteen thousand Mexicans on my roof have other ideas. Something about squatter's rights...

And so to the post office and afterwards to teach my second to last class of the semester.

Recent listens: Aeolian String Ensemble, Jonathan Coleclough, MIA, Double Leopards HALVE MAEN.

It's important to me to finish this one by 10:59: a productivity goal, you unnerstan, so I must...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Yesterday's Wine

So our mini-tour with the Bonny Billy/Sweenoid Super-Wolofing Band was great. It really was like a Wolof supershow, what with ninety-three guitarists up on the stage by the end of the night, jamming out into some especially African vibes. The Wolfs were: Will, Paul, Sweenoid, Fike Mellows and Pete Townshend, with much help and love from 5th member Jessie. We were Ned, Willy, Aram and me, what with Human and Walker off with the 'Retum cats, with moral and filmic support from Justin of the Long Live Death krew. The glowing Jodie Jean Marston and PonieHeart began the night with their lilting hypno-byes.

There is oft a gravitational energy to one of these tours, the openers and the headliners two sympathetic bodies floating in a shared space. At worst, there is an utter lack of energy and the bodies are blackholing in on themselves. At best, the bodies are fully locked into a centripetal dance, where one would go flying off into the outer rim of the universe without the other, and where a certain type of sustainable but precarious balance is achieved by the hyper-aware bodies. This, I feel, is what happened between the Ano and the Billies (though in Charlottesviile, as per usual, the time/space continuum was rippling in an unpleasant way).

New York less mad than the usual; for the first time in forever I did not see the sun rise as I strode down dawn streets but instead it rose while I was asleep in Justin's parents' guest room in Wyckoff. I awoke to glowing yellow drapes backlit by a viciously bright sunrise. Any physical or mental pain was duly sidestepped, with help: Justin's Mom esp'd my movements behind the closed door and there was coffee awaiting, followed in short order by bagels, delicious lox, coffee cake, strawberries, quiche, more coffee, upon my emergence. She'd reserved a corner of the table for Justin's vegan products, clustered as they were tightly in appearance as to not even come close to the dirty, dirty meat and bacteria-encrusted non vegan products that Ned, Willy and I (Aram spent the night with wife in NYC) so wolfishly pushed into our mouths. It's always fun going into someone else's house and seeing the pictures of them when they are young and braced, standing atop middle school ski-runs with the world below them.

Bowery Ballroom smaller than I remembered last from so many yrs ago, when Al Licht came out onstage dribbling a basketball. We all Sharpied it after; he claims he still has it and will not sell it on eBay. Thence to Philly, quite fun this go 'round. No disrespect to my barely more northerly brothers and sisters, but The Phil has never treated me real well, the Ano neither, and I recall that one night we played at Nick's the very same night the FLyers lost in the Stan Cup finals. Some angry vibes out on those streets that night, electrical and not electric! We thought we were going to get our anos kicked. But this time, much love. And after some of those spanish fries the show; the Theater of the Living Arts seemed absurdly big; I walked to the back during the BPB/Sweeney gig and was disappointed; they looked so shrimpy up there and the sound was boomy and arena-like. It seemed a passage of sorts; Will could play big dates like that constantly, but I don't suppose he will.

We ate larb at a Thai restaurant thereby introducing into the tour vernacular our word of the week: larb. Found one of the old bootleg cds of HARVESTER'S Hemat at the Philly Record Exchange , wondering now if I should trade up.

Thence to the leafy bower of Swarthmore, where it seemed paradoxically that there was less swarth than in Philly, for example, but not, I suppose, compared to the rest of Pennsylvania which, on balance, seems to contain more pink honkies than any other state in the eastern US. An art major had built a gigantic modernist teeter-totter out of plywood and painted it in 70s Germanic primary red. Two solid wooden seats sat opposing one another on each edge of a large semi-circle; that formed the rounded shape on which the teeter would totter. The thing had heft. Maybe Paul and I jumped up on it first, sitting in the seats, knees pointing at knees, finding it very teetery. And thence to the fun, whence the hyperactive Matt Sweeney and the oft-mellow tour hustler Jessie started going at it NY-stylee, trying to bounce one another ass over teeter. It reminded me of the time I watched MS trying to jump off a diving board at some hilltop aerie in Los Angeles, a producer's house, where poolside a recognizable actor--who didnt speak to any of us the whole two hours we were there--was lounged out on a recliner reading an antique hardbound book as if to develop it, a book that got splashed when Ed Oldham hit him sideways with an old skool cannonball, not even a can opener. Matt had a unique way of running off the end of the board without benefit of a bounce. But he knew how to handle this teeter totter, he really did. Those New York guys, they got style. We all played a fairly small on-campus joint but really rocked it hard. A high point of the mini-tour, to be sure.

In all the excitement Will had a yogurt explode in the pocket of his fleece.

Charlottesville's a town that is important in the grand scheme of Ano. It's where Ned and Aram first met in the 80s (they were in the same class at UVa with the Malklerolian and Nastoid from...what the hell was that band called? Helmet?...) and where Ned, WIlly and I first got it together in the early 90s. Growing up in RIchmond as I did I heard far too many references to Charlottesville as being a sort of Virginian's Valhalla: it's where all the hale fellows well met would go when they die, out to Jefferson's glorious mountains to ride winged horses and to sip bourbon from pewter tumblers and to talk about the sanctity of land. Maybe the chilly vibes about the place are just family ghosts; we have a photograph of my grandfather and his brothers outside Mountain View, an old family farm in Greene County just north of Charlottesville, a house that no longer exists, plowed under by the thousands and thousands of acres of overpriced tract housing one has to muddle through into town on rte 29. The supposedly fancy restaurant we ate at before the show had a typically confused list of appetizers that summed up perfectly a general blandness and indecision typical of Central Virginia (spoken as a proud native): bruschetta, an egg roll of the day (I swear), satay, hummus, calamari. Bonnie Band drummer Pete ordered a "kalamata salad". My gorge rose when the salad arrived tableside and we all espied a handformed baseball-sized clod of rubbery black olives from a can resting on about three big spinach leaves. The damn salad cost 10 dollars.

But any night I get to hang out with SB and SM, not to mention Ned, WIll and Paul's Mom and Dad, is a good night. I felt clumsy and slow behind the kit and wasn't hearing things right...this happens often after a high, and the previous night at Less-Swarth was most certainly that.

Baltimore was great, as per usual.

Re-entry back into the day-to-day is always difficult; from staying up all night sampling distilled products and sleeping 'til noon to being yerked from sleep at 6 a.m. and hitting the ground running, pouring Luit Froops into bowls-- M. demands two bowls, one with Kix, the other with Froops, and two spoons--getting Elder to school by 8ish, then Two Bowls to school by 8:30. If it's nice we walk. A magnificent Spring here in Baltimore so far, cherry buds lasting, azaleas coming out. And getting back to work, such as it is, with very little seeming real, or fake, but neither...

* * *

Yesterday there was a great interview on TGross's Fresh Air with RCrumb. He said something about Timothy Leary claiming that after a serious psychedelic experience one begins to realize that the world exists on numerous metaphorical levels. This gives rise to the more simplistic hippy ideal that "all is connected" but nevertheless there is, to me, some truth to both claims. Tours with the Anomoanon have come to represent a metaphorical world, a complete one, that still hides much of itself from me, but which is mos def formed and informs my mostly domestic life.

It's got to do with being on the road.

Before I had kids and before I had a wife, and before I had to go to work to pay for living, and long before I had a house to pay for, and when my primary concern of the day was what spreadable product would go on my bagel, cream cheese or hummus, and when it was perfectly alright to take an afternoon nap in the hammock under two gigantic white oaks, my favorite thing to do was to get on my bike and ride for long distances. I still have the bike, a Bridgestone RB-1, a great bike, but it sits pretty much unused in the basement. This would've been really when I lived in Charlottesville, near the mountains, and then again in Tallahassee, right before Eldest was borned in 1998.

The thing I liked most was this feeling that, as you left your well-defined nexus of comfort--your neighborhood, then extended walking space, then your greater city--you really understood the essence of freedom in a way that you just can't reckon in a car: you are so connected to the physical world on your bike, and it's easy to overstand how, as you leave your house, this unlinking from your home base comes at a physical cost (excuse the tense confusion). You move through air thick with pollen; you feel the heat coming from car engines as they roar past; you smell the swollen road kill, maggot-laden and crumpled in the ditches you roll past.

It wasn't uncommon for me to go fifty miles on a good day in Charlottesville, and more often than not I'd end up on some lost road winding up through woods and past dilapidated farmhouses, asbestos shingles falling away from burnt frames, rusted carcasses tumbled into ravines, bone-white enamel of appliances shining through the redbuds. If the sky grew dark you were stuck to ride through rain, maybe thunder, for hours. Once I was totally lost but I knew that miles behind me somewhere lay the road back into town. All I had to do was to turn around. But I couldn't. There was a road in front of me and I was first mentally then physically unable to turn my bike against the force pulling me towards it. There was an element of humiliation in having to turn around...or was that it?...something ahead of me kept calling, even as thunderheads billowed black above the mountains and thin white men half-hidden behind screen doors watched me from beneath baseball caps...rolling through lost crossroad towns.

Then a brown figure boiled out from under a porch and before I heard its bark I heard the clacking of its giant nails on the tarmac. A German shepherd with teeth ablaze was on my wheel, close. I could feel its breath on my calf. It was fast but I was faster. It gave up but sat in the road behind me. I looked over my shoulder; the dog watched me, Cerberus' mutant descendant standing sentinel on the very path I knew would take me home. I knew I couldn't turn around and try my luck with the shepherd again. I'd have to keep on following this road, wherever it might lead. A good rule of thumb: all roads lead somewhere. The skies fell, I was surrounded by horrendous lightning and thunder and wind howling down from the mountains (one of the deadliest tornadoes ever in Virginia occurred in Ivy, a town just wnw of Charlottesville). I truly considered that I'd never make it home. It didn't matter, I knew, at the heart of it. No one waited for me. My life really didn't effect anyone in any measurable way, no one relied on me for much of anything, and those people touched by my loss would get over it in time. I was out there, man!

An hour later I came up on a crossroads that I recognized. My relief went beyond mere relief. The next day I went out and did the same thing. Rode out into the mountains and near got lost, but found my way.

Freedom was dependent on that very real idea that no one relied on me. That was true! It is no longer ...This gives any leaving of home a slightly sinister, melodramatic cast, and given that these tours are to all who don't go on them nothing but the purest of escapist fun, well, they aint that for me, dog. It's easy to feel even more out there in the unknown, knowing that you've stomped on the world a bit more, cast things about, made a shape onto it that isn't you...

Friday, March 25, 2005

Memory Chaining

There was a time not too terribly long ago--then again, what is long? what is ago?--when I made my living writing ad copy for a company that made gigantic sewage processing machines.

The machines were called Belt Filter Presses and one of the company's selling points was that their BFPs created lighter "cake" which was nothing more than de-watered "floc", short for flocculant. Flocculant was the word they used to describe the millions of gallons of enzyme-enriched waste that would, by design, flow across the porous belts of abovementioned BFPs, which would then be squeezed together, thereby removing the liquid portion of the waste leaving, um, the "solids". The solids would then have to be trucked elsewhere. Therefore it was best to buy a BFP that would make your "cake" light because you, as the municipal party responsible for paying tax dollars for trucking the cake elsewhere, would desire to have to pay less for the trucking as possible, and everyone knows how heavy water is. And if you had light cake, that is, with less water, obviously it would be easier overall to truck it away. So our company wanted us to emphasize the angle that their BFPs squeezed more whiz and liquid krad out of the floc, thereby making lighter cake. Conversations with the clients were always funny, though I remember I was the only one who thought so. Straightfaced people making helpful suggestions into a speaker phone:

"Well, we've done some tests and we get maximum throughput for the floc, better than company x."
"So your floc, so you can not only get the lightest cake, but your floc moves more quickly through the press..."
"Exactly. Exactly. We've designed them for maximum throughput, even including an enzyme bath..."
"An enzyme bath?"
"Yeah, yeah, really exciting stuff. A tank full of enzyme polymers that not only make the floc *softer* but actually chemically separates water molecules from the more solid flocculant."
"Great. Great stuff. Got a lot to work with here."
"And the polymer is reusable."
"Awesome. So there's that, that environmental angle..."
"Right, definitely, and with the light cake, because we've pressed so much liquid out of the floc, with that light cake your muni trucks use less gas, less pollution, all that good stuff."
Me, so far silent: "So what exactly does the cake look like? Is it really that dry? Totally dry? Or can you still, you know, sense that it was not too long in the past, you know..."
My boss looks at me. Speaker phone says:
"Ummm. Good question. Actually, I see your point. It's really not unlike, well, cake, in fact. A dryish brick of brown sugar, say, a chunk of...let's just say the word *cake* is apt..."

Floc. Cake. Maximum throughput. (close up on my boss's mustachioed mouth): *enzymes*.

It was during this job, wondering about where the cake got trucked, that I recalled having a summer job as a yard-boy at a retirement community during high school. An awful, awful widowed crone led Teddy and I around to her azaleas, having us dump something that I remember being called 'Milagronite' on the beds. It had a sweet, not unpleasant grainy smell, like feed at a zoo or dry dog food or something. That is, nothing you would directly want to eat, but which you could understand without too much of a stretch why a donkey or ape or dog might want to eat it. We pitched it onto the azaleas with our bare hands. One day I read the fine print on the bag only to find out that it was treated solids--cake--from the Municipal Wastewater Treatment facility of Milwaukee (the "Mil" of the name). Milwaukeans' turds. Lots and lots of jokes about beer and cheese that summer.

One of our coworkers was a semi-retarded fat man who wore overalls and brogans every day, holding his Hitleresque mop of greasy black hair in place with an ancient Mack Trucks baseball cap. Charlie, the loudmouth bigot, and Mr. F-, the drunk boss, both called the fat guy "Puddin'" and told Teddy and me to do the same. After a time I grew uncomfortable calling this mildly retarded man who looked like a mole "Puddin'" and asked him his real name. It took me the better part of two months to find out what his answer was: Homer.

I worked with him all summer and understood about three words he said, one of which was cocksucker, used to describe pretty much anyone. I gathered that he'd been in the military and had been posted in Germany.

* * *

I'm ashamed to admit that I've punched my first cell phone, cracking its little windshield. The phone still works. Man, do I miss Sprint. Verizon is just the worst here in my 'hood in Baltimore, and also where C- works in DC. The pits. We switched because last summer they were running a special on family plans, better than Sprint. And everyone told us that Verizon was so great. Buy or beware, as Clodagh sings.

* * *

Finally, I love looking at the art that gets wags' tongues a twitching--Twombly, Hirst, Koons, etc.--but I am always more impressed if I find out that the expressor or impressor was first a drafstman, an artist who paid their dues drawing and designing: DeKooning, Picasso are examples. This is at odds with a strong part of my character, which is as my name implies: jack of all trades, master of none. I can do a silly number of things pretty well, well enough to fool a lot of people into thinking I can do said things better than I really can, but nowhere in my makeup is the kind of patience and dedication to craft that would EVER allow me to do one thing perfectly. This, for me, is a huge fault in my makeup and I am sometimes envious of people who are not hypomanic and who can remain undistracted for longer than a week or a month: I admire people like my Dad, who worked in the same field, still works, in fact, since 1962.

So I love it when I read something that someone has tried to manipulate through unclarity, confusing pov and ambiguous character orientation--obvious examples being Faulkner, Joyce, Kesey's NOTION-- but more often than not I consider that the writer writing this way might have something to hide. I am a lot tougher a critic on writing like this, possibly since I read a lot of student fiction and most students do try to hide behind confusing narratives. Their characters are focused too intently on some solipsistic issue; the characters seem nothing more than outgrowths of the writer's psyche, again, that taint of solipsism; and because the character is so often *them* it is impossible to be objective about the idiotic things that character might or might not do.

Straight narratives are hardest to write, for me. Just no-trick storytelling: Got a funny story? Good. Tell it. That's why even after loving all the efforts of the writers yer supposed to be confused by I always am so moved almost to tears by the beauty of a simple story told well: Peter Taylor comes to mind. Getting back to the roots, the dirt, the unpressed floc.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Vernal Equinox as Birthday

"A great deal of critical rancour has been wasted through a failure to distinguish between two totally different kinds of writing.
A: Books a man reads to develop his capacities: in order to know more and perceive more, and more quickly, than he did before he read them.
B: Books that are intended and that serve as REPOSE, dope, opiates, mental beds.

You don't sleep on a hammer or lawn mower, you don't drive nails with a mattress. Why should people go on applying the same critical standards to writings as different in purpose and effect as a lawn mower or sofa cushion?"

Ezra Pound, The ABC of Reading

By this time of year I am often tired of my pants. Shoes, too. Haven't I been wearing the same pair of purplish cords since September? And switching off between my black Danskos and the Vasque trail runners since Christmas?

Winter holds on here in the Midatlantic with dull, stony fingers. And by the end of every winter I truly feel like I've been down in a trench in Ypres sharing my foxhole with a couple of tubercular midgets. We've been trading a cold in this house since before C- went to Egypt in January. This is one evil phenomonon they don't teach you in birth classes. Those parents among us who occupy the higher levels of the parenting guild are sworn to uphold certain codes of secrecy and the utter brutality of this cold-trading cycle is something that we're supposed to keep to ourselves in order to keep the fresh and naive breeding recruits pumping out new humans without any notion of the horrors to follow. But here it is: one kid comes home from school with a cold, not the flu which, when established in a household moves through it as efficiently as any blood-seeking wolf, but the lowly cold: sniffles, itchy throat, swollen sinuses, non-productive cough, general loginess. So Kid 1 comes home with it--usually signalled by coughing in the middle of the night and sleeptalking, two sounds as lonely and blood-chilling as any I could imagine--and about a week later someone else will catch it, usually Adult 1. Only one person. So for a week there will be two sickish people in the house, until Kid 1 starts getting better, at which point Kid 2 will catch the cold. Note that approximately three weeks have elapsed. By the time Adult 2 has caught the cold Kid 1, the original bringer of the cold, will have pretty much gotten rid of it, Adult 1 will be on the mend, while Adult 2 and Kid 2 will be sick with the cold. A month of compromised sleep, endless sniffling and for the adults, the onset of sinusoidal infections. Sweet.

Here's where it gets diabolical: At this point Kid 1 will RECATCH THE COLD. Yes, the cold that he brought into the house a month ago. Either that or he's caught a new one...because, you must understand that throughout these winter months we move among our friends as 17th century Londoners might've, wondering who's hiding their buboes under laters of polyfill. And as Kid 1 recatches the cold, the entire cycle starts again. Our immune systems are completely befuddled, confusedly inviting the cold back into our bodies in a recursive loop...Didn't you just leave? Soon come the dreaded nostril blisters and the full feeling of a band of gypsies living in the caves behind your eyeballs.

Eldest cold-bearer turned 7 on SUnday, March 20, the first day of "spring" in our hemisphere.

Aside from my confusing crush on Elastigirl and being harangued by anonymous former students--Snay, unmask yourself!--I am moving towards SPring with a great sense of purpose and relief. April finds the ANomoanon going on a blessedly short East Coast trip with our cohorts Bonnie and Matt, and sometime soon, maybe even today, I will shave off the winter beard, a tradition that goes back a number of years (I cant remember how many exactly, but let it be know that I not only started the beard fad, but also the goatee fad: I grew my first in 1985 after seeing the picture of Peter Buck on the back of Reckoning).

And also to get my annual haircut.

And now, I leave you with a junk email I received in my yahoo account. THose Nigerian scammers seem to be taking hints from my former students, really having tightened up their narrative focus, gotten rid of the "look how fancily I can make no sense!"- impulse and adding a bit of character-based intrigue into the mix:

FROM: Dr.Joel Williams(PHD),
0251 B.P. 1625 COTONOU,

My Dear Friend,

In Oder to transfer to overseas $28.5 million(USD)
I want to ask you to quietly look for a reliable
and honest person who will be capable and fit to provide
either an existing bank account or to set up a new Bank
a/c immediately to receive this money, even an empty a/c
can serve to receive this funds quitely.

I am Dr.Joel Williams(PHD), the accountant/auditor of
the above Finance Corporation in Cotonou,Bénin Republique
and personal confidant to Mr.Alvaro Quesada
of Dominican Republic in Caribbean Island who died in a Plane
Crash accident(2002-04-19) on his way to attend a weddind
ceremony together with his wife and only Child (Alvaro Jr).

Mr.Alvaro Quesada, is From Dominican Republic in Caribbean Island,
and a prosperous Tobacco merchant, he died in the year 2002
without having any beneficiary to his assets including his account
here in Bénin which he opened in the above stated bank in the year
2001 as his personal savings for the purpose of expansion
and developement of his company in Africa before his
untimely death in 2002.Until his death,he was the president
of the Dominican Tobacco Exporters Association.

And from my Investigation,i found out that No other person
knows about this account because he( Mr.Alvaro Quesada )
never knew that he is going to die so soon, and so
his purpose was not achieved. If i don't remit this money
immediately, it will get lost(may be it will go into the
pockets of the corrupt government officials who will never
use it for any reasonable thing at all).
I dont want to miss this opportunity because it comes ones
in a life time.

The amount involved is $28.5 million(USD)Twenty eight
million,five hundred United States Dollars and no other
person knows about this account. I am contacting you for
us to transfer this funds to your account as the beneficiary,
I want to first transfer $16,000.000.00(Sixteen million USD)
from this money into a safe account abroad, after which we
will transfer the remaining (12.5M). I am only contacting
you as a foreigner because this money cannot be approved
to a local person here, without a valid foreign
international passport, but can only be approved to any
foreigner with valid international passport or drivers
license and foreign a/c, this is because the money is in
US Dollars and the former owner of the a/c, Alvaro Quesada
is a foreigner too, and as such the money can only be
approved into a foreign a/c.

However, I am revealing this to you with belief in God
that you will never let me down in this business.I don't
know you and have never seen you before,i only got your
contacts from an international directory which my
secretary provided for me. You are the first and the only
person that I am contacting for this business, so please
reply urgently so that I will inform you the next step to
take. Send also your private telephone and fax number.

I need your full co-operation to make this work because
the management is ready to approve this payment to any
foreigner who has correct information of this account,
which I will give to you, upon your positive response and
once I am convinced that you are capable and will meet up
with instruction of a keybank official who is deeply
involved with me in this business.
I want to tell you that this transaction is 100% risk free
and legal because all the documents that will back up this
transaction will be available, so that no body will
question the fund when it is finaly tranfered to your

At the conclusion of this business, you will be given 40%
of the total amount and 60% will be for me. I look forward
to your earliest reply through this email.

Thanks for your time.

Your's faithfully,

Dr.Joel Williams(PHD,)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Son of Nanook: or, What Is This, the Hollywood Remake?

Thanks to all interested parties, fans or not, who braved the Baffin Bay-like chill we had piped in from the Arctic Circle to Baltimore, in order to attend the Nanook screening at the Creative Alliance. It blew our budget, unfortunately, but was worth it as far as authenticity's sake. Not to mention making our fans happy. And winning over some new ones!

So the day of the show our local Laughing Man Marc Steiner, on his eponymous radio show, interviewed one of the cats from the Alloy Orchestra . It was a fun interview to hear on the very day of the Balt-Ano's debut as silent film accompanists, a genre I am told is incredibly hot right now. The AO, according to Rog "the Mod" Ebert, are the best silent film accompanists ever in the history of the world! (as per the thumb upper/downer, did you know that you actually pronounce his last name in the Cajun fashion, that is, Ay-bare, and not EE-burt? And that, as a boy, he was called Roggie, with a hard 'g'? Yes, it's true: he grew up wrestling tiny alligators in the Delta of Lousiana and did not wear underpants until college). Marc, in his gristly, gravelly, stoned-sounding way asked the AO cat what lessons he'd learned about this new but old means of entertaining the public, that is, playing live to a silent film. What kind of things go wrong? Steiner asked schadenfreudenly. AO, sounding at best like he lived in the bottom of a gigantic tin bucket (WYPR engineers: fix that!), admitted that they'd long ago learned to score/practice to the EXACT PRINT of the film that would be screened during the show. Why? Isn't this copy of Griselda the Forlorn Ragpicker starring Lil Gish the same as that one? Apparently not, chuckles AO. Back when they were tyros, they'd made the mistake of writing and arranging a score and then practicing for weeks (!!?) or months (!!!???!!!) based on and while watching DVD or VHS copies rented from a local store, only to find upon the night of the show that the venue had discovered some ancient film reel of same show, and finding, of course, during the opening moments of the movie, that the old print was totally different from the mastered and pumped up DVD copy they'd based their whole arrangement on. Thereby making their music ridiculous.

I laughed out loud. How funny. What poor preparation! And Roggie called these guys the best...

Then I remembered that we'd been huddling around a brand new DVD playing on a laptop in Ned's basement trying in a very un-ANo-like way to arrange our themes in perfect aural/visual alignment with the action unfolding on the screen...a fanfare-style 'a' to 'g' flourish here when Nanook pulls the snow fox out of the hole, a seamless transition into JB's "It's a Man's World" when they all awake in the igloo and Nanook's cute and very naked wife chews on his sealskin boots in order to make them all warm and deliciously slimy for the Nookster's feet. Could our plans to be perfect be scuttled? Well, we laughed in a manner that, to an objective bystander, would've sounded very confident and exuded our innate sense of the absurdity of all things: the prints the Creative Alliance uses are old-skool reel film, as a matter of fact, and it seemed unlikely that it would be the exact same as the dvd. Who cared if it was a little different, though? We've played together for many years and have been lost onstage more times than any of us could count; God knows it'll be an odd day when the ANo takes the stage having polished our style to any physical state even distantly related to frictionlessness. And, to paraphrase Coltrane, we always seem able to "resolve", to, um, "bring it all (and I mean ALL!) back home."

Are you, dear reader, smellling what is cooking?

The show started and of course first three scenes were completely different than those on the DVD. We'd never seen them before. Like the first five minutes. Our intro theme went out the window. So did Scott's jauntily canine-like "Dog Theme". What the hell? Are those *seal pups* smiling cutely at Flaherty's camera? No, dear God, do not let Nanook club them...Tragedy narrowly averted (thanks Bob "Mumbleton" Weir!). Perpetually un-fazable, our bodies and brains working off the sublime chemistry of Matthew's crab pizza--Yes! Crab! All Baltimorons Bow Down to the Master Crustacean Who Owns our Souls!--and being such master manipulators of our tiny yet grand instruments, and masters also of our instruments' interconnected destinies, we delivered a solid and amusing, and oftentimes quite fearful, set of sounds and tunes. And had a great time doing so.

* * *

I have Bill Faulkner to thank for keeping my incredibly flabby Quicksilver muscles from becoming totally atrophied. I re-read Unvanquished and Absalom! Absalom! this winter and not a night passed that didn't find me jotting unknown words into my bedside small Moleskine; the day following I'd usually refer to my trusty American Heritage dictionary to find out what, oh, "faience" meant (a type of primitive glazed pottery, used to describe Sutpen's face: what a fucking master, you know?), or "virago" (a man-like woman, used to describe Drusilla in Unvanq'ed). But my AH dictionary did not have the very strange word "retromingent" listed, so I called up Quicksilver and typed period, then "retromingent", hit tab, typed define, return...only to learn the following from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913):

Retromingent \Re`tro*min"gent\, a. [Pref. retro- + L. mingens,
p. pr. of mingere to urinate.]
Organized so as to discharge the urine backward. -- n.
(Zo["o]l.) An animal that discharges its urine backward.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Nanook of Highlandtown

First, just kidding about the Robo! This isn't 1988, after all.

Second, The Anomoanon, Baltimore-mark, are geared up for our show at the Creative Alliance, Wednesday at 8. The "Baltimore-mark" version of this band is: me, Ned O., Dave Human and Walker of the 'Retum, and master arranger Scott "Red" Wallace Brown , ivorystroker of many Charm City combos. We've actually worked out some themes, if not complete songs, and have buried some surprises down in the cake-mix; as much as we (at least those of us not named Scott) love improvised freak music, THE REVOLUTION (of the film reels) WILL NOT BE (accompanied by) IMPROVISED (music). We'll save that one for Faust and the Boxheads!

Third, if you own a Mac, get on over to here and enjoy the delights within. I've given props to Merlin before; little did I know that he's famous! Among nerds, anyway. We go back to the Tallahassee days, those wondrous times filled with Rays of Bacon, a band I had the pleasure of watching a bunch of times and who inhabits an even higher pedestal in my hall of estimation for so openly and unselfishly giving their drummer Bruce full-on props whenever possible: such a rare and wondrous thing to hear from the mic-smelling mouth of a frontstagist! Le Merlon at the time was working in some capacity for some company in what I supposed then was "technical assistance" or "i.t."; I understood anyhow that he "fixed computers". So, without adieu, I offer you this email I wrote to Merlopotomous verbatim in honor of Monday: it's a true story.

lissen, funny story that I've been telling a lot lately which includes you: remember back in the day when I had the powerbook 145B that crashed, taking everything I'd written in 5 years with it? Yes, you say out loud (then, to yourself, the dumbass didn't back up any of it! He didn't really even know what 'backing up' was! sheez! He also rarely cleaned off his grill, claiming that the bad stuff would just "burn off". Burn off? BURN OFF? Like right onto the goddam steak, right? Mutherscratcher, I'm not reading any further!).

ANyhow, you took a gander at it, pronounced it dead. I looked into hard drive recovery: a grand (about a grand more than I had at the time). So Merlin tells Jack, Hey pal, don't throw it away. Keep it. Put it in the closet, try turning it on once a year. You never know. Thought to myself, WHat does this clown know? He couldnt even fix my computer. Yeah, sure Merlin, I'll, uhh, hang onto this worthless plastic box. THanks for your help!

I did as told. It sat in my old closet in my old room at my mom and dad's house in richmond while we gallivanted about the wider world, west africa precisely, and thence home to richmond and baltimore. Once a year during our visits to ma and pa's I'd plug in the old 145 and try to crank her up. Nada, ever. Not a fucking peep. This summer, august, I take the kids to richmond to see their grannies while chris goes to india for work. It's pouring rain outside. I begin the series of worthless tasks one often begins when one is bored out of their skulls; going through the old shoes in my old closet to see if any of them have come back in style; looking through the clothes my father has retired by throwing on the floor of my closet, etc., to see if I can use any of them. I see the computer sitting there, dumb and grey. I decide to throw it away.

The story's almost over. Did I throw it away? Well, I sure was about to but figured that she deserved one more try.

Can you fucking belive that it started up? I fell flat back on my ass when I heard the chord. The screen was shot but if I looked at it above and from an oblique angle I could see my desktop---looking at it straight on, nothing. I found some old formatted floppys and proceeded to copy all old text files (os 3 or something?) onto them, plugged those into a retarded old pc my parents had lying around, changed them all to ms word, & voila, over 30 stories and parts of stories from a chapter of my life I never thought I'd be reintroduced to. I can only assume you recognize the vastly mysterious and strange nature of this phenomenon.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Across the Droniverse

First, regarding the droning radio transimission writ about below, check this out. Probably many of you have heard of this release, either through our homesqueezins in Wilco or mayhaps you, like me, are hopelessly addicted to the Aquarius Records monthly updates and know that this bizarre compendium of found noise ranks up there with, oh, Village of Savoonga (?) as one of their faves of awl tymez.. Either way, it's not so hard for me to believe that I'd tapped into some kind of weird transmission...

The below entry, the one about driving while listening to the tone and not the one about Spud, was in part pulled from my memory by an angry email from an old pal'o'mine, Spoxman. Last year I mentioned to Sr. Duertos that I'd really enjoyed a few of the Sun City Girls' Carnival Folklore series, particularly the ones entitled High Asia Low Pacific, Sumatran Electric Chair and Resurrection Radio. This series--I think they were going to try to release a cd a month for a year; a couple years later they've tallied 13 or 14--has been notable for what some might phrase its missive-like nature(see above review)--jotted postcards from the strange practice space of a working band--or their "unlistenableness".

Even as a fan of what I've characterized (to him) as unlistenable jazz music in the past, Spox agreed with the latter description. Angrily, as it were. As Spox is semi-undergrounded, and he who shall remain nom de plumed, I print in full from the recent missive, to wit: "Did you ever find that SSG record-- Electric Chair for the Fernando Lamas or whatever? I think my days of being an Abduction (or whatever) consumer are numbered-- hopefully there are fewer days left than there are bad Sun City Girls records. I think the last three I've bought were basically all unlistenable. No wait, I bought one last week, but have been too scared to put it near an apparatus that will play it-- the jury's still out! Of there (sic) minds!!!!"

Spox and I go way back to middle school. We played in bands together, along with Stevie. Spox's Dad, like my parents, had a good record collection but, unlike my parents, he continued to buy records through the 80s (this reminds me of when Dad promised to stop by Woolworth's on his way home from work in order to by what I thought would be a KISS 8-track; instead he bought the Big Brother and the Holding Company with the RCrumb cover, Cheap Thrills it was. Already Dad was lamenting my straying from the road of Beatles, Elvis, Platters into this realm of glam cartoon rock; Janis Joplin of all people was who he enlisted to bring me back). I can remember that Spox's dad really liked Heaven 17 and some other sort of pansyish british gelled hair bands, but I can also assume he bought stuff that we liked, like Squeeze and Game Theory. Spox might argue about his dad's degree of coolness, but it seemed he let ol' Spoxer do what he wanted to do, which was pretty much play music and listen to music and play music. And pin gigantic semi-scatalogical pictures on his bedroom wall, which was all dark corkboard. Anyhow, Spox had a Replacements boot with a cover of Radio Free Europe; naturally I loathed what those drunken louts did to my fave song of 10th grade! Spox also tried to get me to like Big Black. He thought the title Songs About Fucking was intense and hilarious! meanwhile I was listening to Squeeze's ARGYBARGY and CHRONIC TOWN. Pretty wimpy, I guess.

(By the way, the kids've been having me play ARGYBARGY without cease recently and it is absolutely a great record. I thought this in 1983 or 84 but of course I was in high school and also liked the Alarm, ABC, REM, and Transistor. But ARGYBARGY stands the test of time which those others, except ABC, who still seem pretty damn cool, certainly do not (really, the Alarm? Lord. And aside from Bill Berry leaving, what on earth happened to REM? Send theories.). The playing on Argy is great; drummer Gilson Lavis's "just the beat and tasty fills ma'am" style was an influence on me, and I think Difford's guitar playing is good, too, all those nice Kirkwoody leadlines in the verses. Jools Hollands keyboards remind me in places of Garth Hudson, particularly the multi-octave synth swells on Another Nail. Tillbrook sings good. And the lyrics! Frankly I started losing interest in them when some p.r. flacky started promoting all this Difford/Tillbrook as the next Lennon/McCartney guff. That was the first dong of the death knell. Who could stand up to that? SQUEEZE disappeared. Diff/Till tried to put out a Spandau Ballet-like record but it was...too SPandau Balletish. But those ARGYBARGY lyrics...hilarious and perfect.)

Enough: Why is it that all I listen to these days is this?. Or this?. Or Argybargy? Or this? .

I blame it on the drone-spirit that took over a large portion of my conscious mind that afternoon out west. Or the fact that I drank over a pint of Robitussin only one hour ago.

And now, SQUEEZE's "Misadventure":

Hitched a hiker
Up above the border
She'd spent some time
In morocco and gibraltar
And stole my wallet
With a picture of my misses
With fond remembrance
Of everything with kisses

From the isle of dogs
To the egyptian sands
Where the arabs chew on dates
And i haven't forgot what it's like to be
With misadventure and her mates

I miss the east end
High up on the khyber
And i'm the target
For a dozen rebel snipers
It's not so bad though
With some beers in the freezer
And something fancy
In the airconditioned sleeper

From the isle of dogs
To the egyptian sands
Where the arabs chew on dates
And i haven't forgot what it's like to be
With misadventure and her mates

In moving carpets
Through the customs at dover
Thinking my journey
Was going to be over
Then they discovered
A shipment of moroccan
And said excuse me sir
There's something you've forgotten

From the isle of dogs
To the egyptian sands
Where the arabs chew on dates
And i haven't forgot what it's like to be
With misadventure and her mates

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Spud: A Remembrance

I was attacked by a monkey once at summer camp. And no, it wasn't my asthmatic bunkmate Carl, nor was it Rusty, our cabin's lone true juvenile delinquent (divorced parents, beat up Carl, cried passionately about cabin counselor Phil's lack of understanding), nor, for that matter, was it Gordon, the cabin's lone nerd--poor fellow had acne long before he should've--who cut his knee awful bad one day falling down on the way to first base and thence, scared of going to the camp nurse and unbeknownst to counselor Phil, poured Phil's Old Spice after shave on it. He then leaned back on his bunk holding the bloody knee and hissing through his braces, the cloying scent of some kind of weird spice filling the air. No, the animal that attacked me was a real monkey named Spud donated to the camp by a kid from Atlanta with a purple scar from thorax to navel: he'd already had open heart surgery and I don't think he was 8! Not Spud, but the kid.

I was returning from archery. The camp had just recently gotten a couple of beautiful new bows and an older cousin was in charge of dispensing them to eager young bowmen; he would always find the best one for me. They weren't compound, but neither were they the flimsy fiberglass ones with the hard plastic grips. Carved from some kind of hardwood, they had ergonomic grips that fit my 12 year-old hand perfectly. I loved archery, actually, and this particular year I'd considered with something like a broken, hesitant sort of preadolescent confidence that I might win the archery award at the end of the summer session. Returning to my cabin after a successful session at the range, I noted a large crowd gathered around Spud's wire mesh-walled cage. Even from afar I could hear murmurs of excitement and could see the crowd moving as one as it collectively followed some kind of activity. I grew closer to see that two counselors were atop the cage in crouches of readiness. Between them, relaxed on his haunches, was Spud, having gotten somehow out of his cage.

Spud wasn't one of those tiny organ grinder monkeys with masks and long prehensile tails. He was a pretty big slow grey monkey with a tan chimp-face. I really enjoyed being that close to a real primate. Spud was funny. It should be said here that the camp was filled with primates not entirely unlike Spud, if not a little bigger. We were all pretty funny! Which perhaps was a part of the problem. We used to take spring peepers and throw them by the handfull into the giant air-conditoner fan next to the mess hall, laughing hysterically as they pinged off the blades with a sound not unlike popcorn. A kid named Lee from Louisiana shat in his pants one day while we were outside of the arts and crafts cabin and, in embarrassment, threw the soiled grippies into into the woods; someone, not me, retrieved them and put the grippies, now stiff and tan and stinking like roadkill, in his locker. The abovementioned asthmatic Carl was also undersized and spent much of the summer with his head in the toilet, either barfing or getting swirllies. In fact he had long brown hair and when Rusty told me we were going to give Carl a "swirlie" I understood the derivation of the word pretty much from the start; Rusty pulled Carl from the bowl and Carl's hair rose up from his head like soft-serve ice cream on top of a cone. A junior counselor next door was, in retrospect, flamboyantly gay and he took no end of guff from some of our more macho, summertan sailing counselors (one of whom, I remember now, was mostly deaf and wore hearing aids). We gave him a lot of shit as well; Rusty used to call him "grandmother". I have memories of sympathizing with Spud, all alone there in his cage. He was funny, true, but there was something tragic in his wizened countenance, the way he beheld us free primates with his brown-red eyes. I also have memories of looking around the sandy backyard of the nature center looking for long thin sticks that would fit through the holes in the mesh enclosing Spud's 12 foot by 10 foot living area (he had a bald limb to sit on, maybe a tiny pond, always there seemed to be spent brown pieces of fruit lying around) in order to see if Spud would grab the sticks. Spud had endured a lot of passive torment; that is, no direct physical abuse, but months if not years of the kind of behavior I'd think a primate would be highly sensitive to: bared teeth, lots of laughing and pointing and growls, aggressive-seeming movement as we wrestled for position in front of him, being prodded by sticks.

So by the time Spud made his escape there to the top of his cage he probably had a lot of issues to work through. And as I angled towards the cage after my successful afternoon of archerying, a coastal North Carolina summer sky growing fuzzy and swollen, the air thickening as one of the afternoon thunderstorms began to build out on the Neuse, I figured it would be a good way to pass a lazy part of the day. That is, watching the counselors assist Spud in regathering his wits and convincing the little grey ape to go back into his cage.

As I approached I could see without any doubt that Spud was staring directly at me, even from, oh, fifty feet or so. My use of the words "staring" and "directly" are not redundant: in the span of a millisecond Spud's full attention was aimed at me, wandering up to the crowd, whistling, hands in my pockets, as if I was the only other primate in the entire camp. There were probably thirty campers gathered around the cage by now so, even though the monkey had chosen to stare at me, well, maybe I felt the tiniest bit of pride. I puffed out my chest, raised my shoulders as heads turned to check out the object of Spud's attention. I had great faith in the supreme power of the counselors' abilities to wrest control of the situation and didn't feel at all threatened, even when Spud, his eyes not moving from mine, begin to inch towards the edge of the cage. The detail must be stressed: his eyes remained locked on mine, and his head did not move as his body moved towards the edge of the cage, then over the edge, disappearing from my view as he hit the ground at the crowds' feet. And suddenly the counselors were yelling Get back! Get back! at the campers, who split into two screaming groups, each moving chaotically away from Spud, who as yet remained squatting at the foot of the cage until our eyes met again. As the groups split I could see that Spud, still on the ground, was still staring directly at me.

And there was no one between us.

The counselors were still on top of the cage, their white t-shirts wet with sweat. Above them was a canopy of shade tree, catawba maybe, or locust, something with dramatic leaves that gave the dappled ground something of the appearance of a jungle. I noted these details as my buddy Spud ran directly at me, scooting along the ground in that knuckle-to-foot sideways ape run and shrieking. Spud was not playing, I knew this, so I turned around and ran twenty feet or so around the Nature Hut building to the door, already thinking how funny it would be to look at Spud from the other side of a closed door (the so-called Nature Hut consisted of five or six reeking cages, two of which held guinea pigs). I was not so skinny anymore but was still, objectively, a fast runner, and had a good jump on my little monkey; Spud trailed me by twenty feet or so, and the door was, well, now that I'd jumped up on the porch of the Nature Hut it was just two giant steps away. I grabbed the screen door and threw it open just as Spud leapt up onto the end of the porch. I had about three seconds, plenty of time to dash into the Nature Hut and close the door behind me. A detail from a bad dream, but true: I threw the screen door open only to find the second door locked. I tried to open it--chunka, chunka, chunka---just as Spud, still shrieking, leapt into the air.

And directly he was on my shoulders. I raised my arms and stumbled away from the door. Spud grabbed the collar of my t-shirt and was pulling on it, his feet on my back, now both of us shrieking. Then I was falling off the edge of the porch and hitting the dirt hard. Spud still had ahold of my shirt and was still tugging on it and jumping up and down on my back.

And just as suddenly Spud took off towards the main part of camp. My last sight of Spud was of him tearing across the putting green, knuckles-to-feet, knuckles-to-feet. Turns out I got off pretty easy. Wandering back to the cabins in something of a daze was like walking through a battlefield. Kids crying, legs bleeding. Spud had gone on a rampage through Camp Seagull, getting back for all those years of poking and pointing and yowling and cage-smacking and monkey-copying and all that rotten brown fruit.

Spud's cage behind the Nature Hut remained empty, and our lives were a little emptier as a result. Everyone at the camp told us that Spud had been hospitalized for exhaustion.

I never saw the old boy again!

Thursday, February 10, 2005


blackgoat, originally uploaded by oldominion.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I Give Up: or, Subliminal Draftsmanship

In the mid-80s on a desolate highway in the far reaches of some nameless western state I, driving, watched the l.e.d. on the radio scan through dead waves in search of signal purchase for the better part of an hour. My car mate had fallen asleep while a station somewhere in the past was fading behind us, probably playing a song by Creedence, and his body had lurched forward in the seat as far forward as his seatbelt would allow. I looked at him; he was leaning to the side, as if he'd been shot. The air-conditioner was broken and whichever state we were in--New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada--was very hot. Beads of sweat rolled off my carmate's nose as the radio scrolled. A hot wind blew in the window. Meanwhile the blue numbers ticked by.

We had recently crossed highway 666 and noted with interest that our odometer read 666 at the exact moment we crossed it.

After an hour of the radio spinning it stopped dead in its tracks. It was a low band on the FM frequency, in the 80s. I saw that the numbers had stopped scrolling but couldn't hear anything; I turned the volume up. What the radio found was nothing but a single distant-sounding monotone. (The in-dash cassette player was broken; batteries to keep the boombox in the backseat fed had already eaten into our meager savings; we'd driven from Atlanta). I thought it funny that after all that time of looking for a station the radio had finally found one that happened to be broadcasting one of those shrill emergency broadcast network noises. Any minute it would end. And while I waited for it to end I noticed--or did I? I turned my ear towards the speaker and turned the volume knob a couple more clicks--I thought I heard a slight phasing of the tone that sounded like a conscious manipulation, as if a hand had twiddled a dial.

Minutes passed with no discernible change in the noise; soon I realized it was no EBS alarum; there were no interruptions whatever in this steady, possibly slightly phasing tone. It did not sound like an organic instrument or, more accurately, an acoustic instrument. The sound was not made by a hollow box with either strings or a stretched head that you either strum or beat on. It was, I decided, an electronic tone. But what, I asked myself, listening more closely to the whispering undulating sound, was the difference between electronic and electrical? That is, was this a sound produced by an electronic instrument like an analog synthesiser or a primitive oscillator, or just some static electrical byproduct of the weird world we were driving through? As far as manipulation went...what was conscious? Was what I was hearing, or listening to--as by now I was as inside of this noise as any great and interesting song--a sound made by an intelligent human animal purposefully? Was there a consciousness behind the now one key-higher-in-tone sound, and that phase shifting, I wondered, was that an auditory illusion or was it instead a circular phasing measurable over the course of approximately five minutes? Or had I run across some kind of electrical aeolian harp , a weird frequency of feedback spit out by one of those glowering buttes we were passing at a clip?

Before long the monotone was speaking to me in magical womb-tones. The flat desert surrounding us became a vast plain of organic and infinite interest, dust the same as me, the same as my car-mate, still slunk against the seatbelt. No question: the sound was a part of this world, and I was a part of this world as well. There were no other cars on this road. The sun was beginning to rest against the orange ground. Something in my lizard brain was feeding on the sound. Or the sound was pulling things from the drawers of my lizard brain, scattering them like muslin garments across a hardwood floor on which was spread a thin layer of dust. The dust had a phantom-scent of talcum. Drapes hung heavy across panes of glass that I could see were rain-streaked. Or was the dust on the floor crushed oysters, not unlike the salted dustclouds tossed up by cars coming down my grandmother's driveway , a house our family sold in 1978? The semester in Tennessee had ended well after three straight semesters of awfullness; anxious as hell, I had called my parents from a pay phone earlier to find out that my grades were pretty good. Earlier I'd gotten a D in Shakespeare ; it wasn't necessarily the result of too much partying but instead in an increased interest in the world that did not include attending class...But this was hard to explain to anyone; and of course my increased interest in the world, an alchemical change in my body, lead eventually to an increased re-interest in Shakespeare, in what my professors had to tell me about certain things, making that D seem even more a knife in the gut of my conscience. I was supposed to be an English major, after all, and Richardson had been defiant when I challenged him about the nearly failing grade, a defiance that made me want to kill him for months afterwards. This sound settled the poison in my soul. Here I was: Red globes balanced on dun outcroppings of soft rock. The sun's edges flared while the middle of the ball quivered like a yolk in a giant bowl. Hot wind in the wide open window. Ninety miles an hour dialed in on the cruise control. It was easy to picture the imagination as an infinite space filled by randomly ordered artifacts, but ones with emotional heft. They meant something, if only to provide a kind of backwards-looking map through what felt subjectively like a collective consciousness. I cannot be assured that this makes any more sense to me now than it did then. Something in me disconnected; in his disconnection I found a new connection to something else entirely. I picked through more of the images the sound on the radio was scattering. Too many to list here. I looked at the clock. I'd been listening to this noise for over an hour. I turned it up as loud as it would go.

My carmate jerked awake, his eyes crossed and unfocused. He was soaked with sweat; his hair stood up straight, the result of two straight days of bathing in harshly chlorinated motel pools. A look of fear, then anger passed over his face. "What in the fuck is this?" he hissed, reaching for the dial.

I intercepted his hand, quickly and without menace, and held it suspended in the hot air in front of the radio. He didn't move.

"I like it," I said.

Later, he claimed I'd slapped his hand away. I remember differently.

* * *

MALI MUSIC is moving quickly. Get the cdrs now. An assortment of things I recorded and others that I bought while there. Send emails to: ikakenewa@yahoo.com. I will send you more info.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


workgirl, originally uploaded by oldominion.

We lived for a year in Bougouni, Mali, West Africa. Tabb turned two on Tabaski. That's what the Malians called the Muslim holiday of Eid el Kebir; it honors Abraham's decision to NOT sacrifice his only son, a son years in the begetting, to God. Tabaski is a holiday honoring a story familiar to most Christians and proves, if one needed any more proof, the long-forgotten sympathies between the Judeo/Christian and Muslim traditions: God's intervention between Abraham and Isaac, he who laughs, Abraham's only son by his wife Sarah. It is both a chilling story and a curious choice of an event to celebrate, this non-birth, this non-death, this curious, stained victory. God has told Abraham that in order to show his love for God he must sacrifice not a goat or sheep or any numbers of goats or sheep but instead his only son by his wife Sarah, a son named Isaac, begotten only after years of failing to conceive. Abraham, who is a hundred years old, agrees to God's request. He tells Isaac that they must go worship in the region of Moriah. Abraham gathers his servants and son and they travel to within sight of the mountain, where Abraham tells the servants to wait while he and Isaac scale the mountain in order to pray. He loads the wood to be used in the burnt offering on to Isaac's back.

"Father," says Isaac, shouldering his load as they begin to climb. "The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
"God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering," answers Abraham.

They scale the mountain, perhaps, as the singer sings, stopping en route to drink some wine. Isaac as a character disappears here in the narrative, becoming as faceless and inhuman as any base animal that might be sacrificed. He becomes a goat, a sheep, nothing more. We do not know what he does when he is bound and placed upon the altar, if he bleats or struggles; we do not know what he does when Abraham's hand rises above him, the knife blade glinting in the dull sun; we do not know what happens when the angel of the Lord intervenes just as Abraham prepares to slay his son, saying, "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. I swear that your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

Chris has left us. We helped her load up her gear---a single backpack---into Madou's Land Cruiser this morning. She and Andrea are spending a few nights out at a rural village. I couldn't tell if the anger brewing in me was directed towards her for leaving us or towards Bougouni for being Bougouni.

So late-afternoon on our post-nap yala yala, Tabb and I take the road West out of town, he in the barely post-industrial stroller, me on foot. Past the outer rim of Bougouni towards the Baole River there is a French-era stand of eucalyptus trees and across from them an old cluster of teak. Beyond these controlled growths of alien trees the woods clear out, scrub takes over and huge thin coconut palms stretch leaning towards the sky. We are joined by three nice boys. They teach us words in Bamanankan: river is Ba, they say. They find Tabb's jog stroller curious and ask me a question that I do not understand. I am beginning to think the question will remain forever unknown until I finally I realize they are asking me, Is the boy able to walk? "Yes,"I tell them. "The boy can walk."

The hard road ends and the stroller begins to bump over mounds of soft dirt. We continue to walk out the road towards the river, passing odd encampments made of sheets of tin, logs leaned against trees, circles burned into the ground. The sky is white and a hot wind blows dryly. It seems the last tubercular gasp of the harmattan. Hot season, we are told, is but a week away. Our friends tell us the earth will soon be as if on fire, the air still and hot and inescapable.

The brown river lies ahead below us. Down along the muddy shore women bathe and wash clothes. A few rows of weedy papaya trees grow along the edge. Across the river there are more scrub woods, more thin stands of mango, more desolate land.

Soon we are struck full-force by a vinegary rank smell and turn a corner and see the earth, suddenly black, covered by countless steer horns, some bleached white, some with black or dark red pieces of flesh still hanging off. I raise my hand reflexively and cover my face as my eyes burn; Tabb looks back at me and gags. We've been following the well-traveled path to Bougouni's abbatoir.

"Boeuf,"says one of the kids, pointing at all the horns. A metal frame with hooks and chains dangling from it is silhouetted against the horizon. I continue to cover my mouth and nose with my t-shirt. Tabb scowls, points at the primitive metal structure. It looks like a gallows.

The sun drops below the trees behind us as we stand there. The sky is orange, the earth gradually more deeply shaded. What I thought was rich black earth is instead earth encrusted with hundreds of years of blood. As we stand there looking at the skulls and the women bathing in the river the shadows grow black against the ground. Animals cry out from the woods; the women rise glistening from the river; the boys call out and we follow them back to town.
"Tell the boy to walk," they yell, running ahead of us.

* * *

I bought loads of music in Mali. I'm currently selling a few cdrs of folk music I recorded there, as well as the music of other artists whose cassettes I bought and burned to my hd. If you live in Baltimore, check them out at the TRUE VINE on the avenue in Hampden; I'm going to drop some off at ONCE:TWICE:SOUND, a great newish record store on Charles St in the Mt. Vernon 'hood here in Baltimore real soon. Was going to do it today but we are, thankfully, having our first real snow of the year. For any of yall who want to hear these musics and who don't live in Baltimore, email me and I'll send you more details.